Brittney Griner Sentenced Updates: Coach 'Amazed' by Griner's Strength

Live Updates
  • WNBA player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday after a Russian court found her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. Her sentence also includes a fine of 1 million rubles.
  • Griner has been detained in Russia since February, when she was found with cannabis oil while at an airport in Moscow.
  • Griner pleaded guilty last month but told the court at the time that there was no criminal intent. Griner's attorneys have said Griner did not use the cannabis oil while traveling in Russia and that she has previously been prescribed medical marijuana for pain.
  • Griner's attorneys told Newsweek they are "very disappointed by the verdict" and said the Russian court "completely ignored all the evidence of the defense."
  • President Joe Biden has called for Russia to release Griner "immediately." U.S. officials say they have proposed a prisoner swap with Russia to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American who has been detained in Russia since 2018.
Griner sentenced
WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, leaves the courtroom after the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Live Updates Have Ended.

Coach 'Amazed' by Griner's Strength

Brittney Griner's WNBA coach reflected on Griner's sentencing by a Russian court while speaking with reporters on Thursday.

Griner, a player with the Phoenix Mercury, was found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. She was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian prison.

"I was really amazed by her courage and her strength," Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. Her comments were captured on video by reporter Jeff Metcalfe, who posted the video clips on Twitter.

Nygaard said she "couldn't imagine" being in Griner's situation. Nygaard commended Griner for being "courageous" and for "continuing to be a good role model in so many ways" throughout her "impossible situation" in Russia.

"We just want her home," Nygaard said, adding that it was "a really emotional day for our whole team."

Earlier Thursday, the Phoenix Mercury released a statement saying Russia's legal process was "never" the thing that would "bring our friend home." U.S. officials have said they are working on a potential prisoner swap with Russia to secure the release of Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, and Paul Whelan, another American who is serving time in Russia after he was arrested in late 2018.

Nygaard said the team is confident President Joe Biden's administration is "going to work hard to bring her home."

Team Shares Messages of Support

Brittney Griner's WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, shared messages of support for Griner on social media Thursday in the hours following her sentencing to nine years in a Russian prison.

Several of Griner's teammates and fellow WNBA players tweeted their support for Griner as news of her prison sentence spread. The Phoenix Mercury reshared some of those tweets alongside photos of Griner playing basketball with those league members.

Diamond DeShields, one of Griner's teammates, wrote that seeing Griner behind bars in Russia was "breaking my heart." The team shared DeShields' post Thursday afternoon.

"Free BG!" A'ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces tweeted. The Phoenix Mercury shared Wilson's message along with a photo of Griner and Wilson hugging in celebration.

"We love you and miss you BG," tweeted Kia Nurse, another of Griner's teammates. Griner's team shared her message with another photo of Griner celebrating at a game, this time with Nurse.

Brianna Turner, also one of Griner's teammates, posted several tweets ahead of Griner's sentencing, including one that said she was "Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her." The Phoenix Mercury reshared that tweet alongside one of Griner high-fiving her teammate.

Biden 'Laser-Focused' on Case

President Joe Biden is "laser-focused" on efforts to bring WNBA player Brittney Griner home from Russia, National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby said Thursday.

Kirby spoke with reporters during a White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon, just hours after a Russian court found Griner guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. The court sentenced Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, to nine years in a Russian prison.

"The president's laser-focused on this," Kirby said when asked about efforts the Biden administration has made thus far to secure Griner's release. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was working on a potential prisoner swap with Russia in the hope of bringing back both Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan.

"He and the whole team are working this literally every day," Kirby said of Biden.

After Griner's sentence was announced on Thursday, Biden released a statement saying Griner had been "wrongfully detained." He called on Russia to "release her immediately" so she could return to her friends and family members at home.

'He wants to see Brittney and Paul home," Kirby said of the president. "And he's personally involved in making sure that that outcome happens."

John Kirby August 4 press briefing
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby speaks during a White House press briefing in Washington, D.C. on August 4, 2022. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Al Sharpton Condemns 'Legal Atrocity'

Reverend Al Sharpton spoke out against the nine-year sentence a Russian court announced Thursday for WNBA player Brittney Griner, describing the court's decision as a "legal atrocity."

Sharpton has advocated for Griner and called for Russian authorities to release her following her detainment at a Moscow airport in February.

Following news of her sentencing, Sharpton released a statement that "slams" the "harsh sentence." He called for U.S. authorities to boost efforts aimed at bringing Griner home.

Griner's sentence "is a moral outrage and a legal atrocity in any court in the world," Sharpton said, adding that Russia's drug smuggling accusations against Griner "would not even have merited a misdemeanor" in the U.S.

"It is a shameful and dark day when global athletics is subjected to politics and not due process," Sharpton said.

Sharpton mentioned Griner's time playing basketball in Russia and spoke of how her coach and teammates testified on her behalf. Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since late 2018, "are clearly pawns in some global political chess game that has nothing to do with them," he said.

Sharpton reiterated his calls for the U.S. government to "redouble their efforts" to secure the release of Griner and Whelan and requested permission to travel to Russia to confer with Griner.

Al Sharpton speaks about Brittney Griner
Reverend Al Sharpton (C) speaks at a press conference in support of the release of professional basketball player Brittney Griner, on July 8, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. MAX HERMAN/AFP via Getty Images

What is a Penal Colony? Brittney Griner Russian Prison Conditions Examined

The nine-year prison sentence given to U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner on Thursday sparked outrage among many, including social media users, the NBA and U.S. President Joe Biden who called the verdict "unacceptable" and demanded that Russia "immediately" release her.

Read more of this article here.

Officials Eye Potential Prisoner Swap

U.S. officials are hoping to strike a deal with Russia to bring WNBA player Brittney Griner home.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week the U.S. has suggested a prisoner trade with Russia so that American officials can bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American currently detained in Russia. An individual with information about the proposed deal told the Associated Press that the U.S. had suggested trading Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.

John Kirby, the Biden administration's National Security Council coordinator, said on Thursday that the U.S. has made a "serious proposal" aimed at securing Griner's release, though he did not get into the details of the possible deal.

Russian officials have not said much publicly to hint at where they stand on the proposed prisoner swap, according to the AP, though the Biden administration did reach a deal with Russia earlier this year to secure the release of Trevor Reed, an American who was detained in Russia in 2019.

Griner faces a nine-year sentence in a Russian prison if she is not permitted to return to her home in the U.S. Whelan was first detained in Russia in late 2018 and is serving time in a Russian penal colony.

After news of Griner's sentence was announced on Thursday, President Joe Biden called upon Russia to "release her immediately." A Thursday statement from Blinken's office said the U.S. "will continue working to bring Brittney and fellow wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan home."

"I am committed to ensuring we do everything we can to bring home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan as soon as possible," Blinken tweeted Thursday.

Griner Being Used as 'Political Pawn,' Her Agent Says

Brittney Griner's agent condemned the WNBA star's sentence Thursday, calling it "severe by Russian legal standards."

"Today's sentencing of Brittney Griner was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn," Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner's agent, tweeted.

Colas extended gratitude to President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in efforts to "get a deal done swiftly" and bring Griner and other detained Americans home.

"Bringing Brittney and Paul home is the sole objective, and as such, we should use all available tools," Colas said. "We must remain focused and unified. This is a time for compassion and a shared understanding that getting a deal done to bring Americans home will be hard, but it is urgent and it is the right thing to do. #WeAreBG."

Griner Can 'Hardly Talk,' Her Lawyer Says

Brittney Griner's attorney Maria Blagovolina said the WNBA star is "very upset" and can "hardly talk" following Thursday's sentencing.

"She is very upset, very stressed," Blagovolina said to reporters Thursday. "She can hardly talk, honestly. So it's [a] difficult time for her."

"When we saw Brittney, I think it was Tuesday, we told her, 'see you on Thursday'. And he said, 'see you on doomsday' so it looks like she was right," Blagovolina said.

Griner's defense attorneys plan to appeal Thursday's verdict. Griner has 10 days to appeal under Russian law and her lawyers expect a hearing in Moscow next week, ESPN reports.

What Russian Penal Colonies Are Like

WNBA player Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony, a verdict her defense attorneys say they will appeal.

An estimated 520,000 people were serving in penal colonies in Russia as of April 2021, according to the Associated Press. Of the 692 prisons in Russia, 684 were penal colonies, The New York Times reported in early 2021.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines a penal colony as a "settlement established for punishing criminals by forced labor and isolation from society," and Merriam-Webster defines penal colonies as places "where prisoners are sent to live."

Paul Whelan, another American who was first detained in Russia in late 2018, is serving a prison sentence in a Russian penal colony.

Alexei Navalny is also serving his sentence in a penal colony. Last year, Navalny described the penal colony he is serving in as a "friendly concentration camp," with cameras "everywhere."

U.S. Has Made 'Serious Proposal' to Russia

The U.S. has made a "serious proposal" to Russia as part of its negotiations to secure the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner and Paul Wheelan, according to John Kirby with the White House National Security Council.

Kirby touched upon U.S. efforts to bring Griner home during a Thursday appearance on MSNBC.

"We have made a serious proposal to the Russians to try to get Brittney and Paul Whelan, who is also wrongfully detained, home where they belong," Kirby said. Whelan has been held in Russia since late 2018 after being accused of spying. He is currently serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian prison.

"We urge the Russians again to seriously consider that proposal, to act on it, and let's get these two Americans home where they belong," Kirby said.

Earlier Thursday, a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after finding her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent.

Kirby said Griner was "wrongfully detained" and called for her immediate release. President Joe Biden, who released a statement about Griner's "unacceptable" detainment earlier Thursday, "is going to stay 100 percent committed" to ensuring her safe release, Kirby said.

Griner's Team Is 'Heartbroken'

Brittney Griner's WNBA team said it is "heartbroken" for Griner after a Russian court reached a verdict in her drug case on Thursday.

The Arizona-based Phoenix Mercury released a statement saying they understood the Russian legal process was "never" one that would "bring our friend home" but said Thursday's verdict was still a "sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare" experienced by Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February.

"We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months," the team said.

The team said it is "grateful" for the efforts of U.S. officials working to bring Griner back home.

"We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention," the statement added.

The team went on to say it is "inspired every day" by Griner's "strength" and said it is "steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil."

"We will not allow her to be forgotten," the team's statement concluded. "We are BG."

Watch Moment Griner Hears Sentence

Video footage shows the moment WNBA player Brittney Griner learned of the verdict reached in her drug trial in Russia.

Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, was found guilty of drug trafficking with criminal intent and sentenced on Thursday to nine years in a Russian prison.

Video released after the verdict was read showed Griner sitting behind bars while learning about the Russian court's decision. Her defense team was seen sitting at a table just outside her cell.

In the video, Griner can be seen looking down and shaking her head.

A handcuffed Griner was also seen being led from a courtroom in photos taken on Thursday.

Brittney Griner led from courtroom
Women's National Basketball Association (NBA) player Brittney Griner leaves the courtroom after the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow on August 4, 2022. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

WNBA Stars Call to 'Free BG'

Several WNBA players reacted to Brittney Griner's sentence Thursday, calling on her release and on the U.S. to bring her home.

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson tweeted "Free BG!"

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale tweeted, "Can't just play with people's lives like that. Sickening. Lord, cover Brittney & her family. FREE BG‼️"

Before the sentencing, Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner shared her support and called on President Joe Biden's administration to bring Griner home.

"Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her," Turned tweeted Thursday. "Even after sentencing is complete I hope POTUS and [the] White House will continue to do everything in their power to bring Brittney Griner & all other Americans detained abroad home."

After the sentencing, Turner tweeted a long message in response to "hateful" messages about Griner, saying many Americans lack "compassion."

"I don't have the capacity to respond to every hateful message about Brittney Griner," Turner said." I think it's easy to be an outsider and wish the worst. It's easy to not know all the facts. It's easy to spread hate on social media. I know many Americans lack compassion due to all the chaos that happens regularly in our country. BG is my friend and teammate and one of the kindest people I know. Even before being detained in Russia she would receive hate from trolls bc they didn't like her looks or what she supported. Yet she continuously held her head high."

"I would love to individually respond and annihilate every negative viewpoint I receive but that would be a waste of my time," she continued. At the end of the day many people lack compassion & critical thinking skills and it's not my responsibility to teach that. Respectfully, get a life trolls."

Griner's Lawyers Plan to File Appeal

Brittney Griner's defense team said they plan to appeal the verdict a Russian court reached on Thursday in the WNBA star's drug case.

Lawyers representing Griner said in a statement to Newsweek that they are "very disappointed" by the verdict reached in her case. Griner, who was first detained in Russia in February, was found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison.

Griner's defense team said the court "completely ignored all the evidence" that they had presented over the course of her trial, including Griner's guilty plea.

"This contradicts the existing legal practice," her attorneys said.

Griner's defense team went on to say they plan to appeal the verdict, which they described as "unreasonable."

"Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable," their statement said. "We will certainly file an appeal."

Griner had been accused of bringing vape cartridges into Russia that allegedly had cannabis oil. She pleaded guilty last month but said there was no criminal intent.

U.S. 'Committed' to Bringing Griner Home

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Brittney Griner's sentence as he vowed to do "everything" possible to bring the WNBA star back to the U.S.

"The Russian court's conviction and sentencing of U.S. citizen Brittney Griner spotlights our concerns with the Russian government's use of wrongful detentions," Blinken tweeted shortly after Thursday's verdict.

"I am committed to ensuring we do everything we can to bring home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan as soon as possible."

WNBA Calls Sentence 'Unjustified'

Brittney Griner's nine-year Russian prison sentence is "unjustified and unfortunate," the WNBA said Thursday.

In a joint statement from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the leagues said that while Griner's sentence was "unjustified" it was "not unexpected." Griner "remains wrongly detained," Engelbert and Silver said.

Both leagues said they are still dedicated to Griner's cause and hope she will soon be able to return to the U.S.

"The WNBA and NBA's commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States," their statement said.

Biden Calls for Griner's Immediate Release

President Joe Biden is calling on Russia to "immediately" release Brittney Griner. The president released a statement shortly after Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of drug smuggling by a Russian court Thursday.

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," Biden said in a statement.

"It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

The WNBA star was arrested at a Moscow airport in February of this year for being in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. In July, she pleaded guilty to bringing the cartridges into Russia. As Newsweek has reported, Griner's defense argued that she packed the cartridges by mistake, as she was prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor for pain treatment.